Salida’s past was built on the railroad and mining industries that brought people to the Upper Arkansas Valley. Today one of Salida’s biggest draws, outside of outdoor recreation tourism, is the creative arts. 

Art enthusiasts visit and many artists move to the Salida area to benefit from Colorado’s first official creative arts district. The designation came in 2012 from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who named Salida one the state’s first two certified creative districts. Since the title became official, 17 other Colorado municipalities have been added to the list of creative communities.

“We are so fortunate to have received the designation,” said local artist and entrepreneur Jimmy Sellars, who serves as marketing director for the Salida Council for the Arts. 

According to coloradocreativeindustries.org (CCI), the administrators of the Colorado Creative District program, some of the purposes of a district are to “infuse new energy and innovation, enhance economic capital, revitalize and beautify the community, celebrate and strengthen the community’s unique identity, showcase cultural and artistic organizations and events and improve residents’ quality of life.” 

To illustrate the various art forms, CCI named categories of creative arts in the districts: visual arts and crafts, performing arts, literary and publishing, design, film and media.

Historic downtown Salida is well known for a plethora of visual arts, including painting and drawing, pottery and ceramics, sculpture and found object assemblage, photography, cartoons and illustration, mixed media, jewelry and fiber arts. A list of Salida art galleries can be found at salidaartists.com/galleries.  

The Salida Council for the Arts, a 501(c3) nonprofit organization, enhances community culture by supporting the arts, encouraging art education and serving as liaison between the arts and other community entities. The website, salidacouncilforthearts.org, is a prime resource for all things art in Salida. 

A monthly event put on by SCFTA, Second Saturday Gallery Tours features local artists who open their doors to visitors to browse creative spaces. Another monthly calendar mark is Second Thursdays. Hosted at the Paquette Gallery in the SteamPlant theater lobby, creative mixers invite artists of all genres to meet, share ideas and be inspired by each other. 

Other frequent opportunities for visual arts are weekends at the Salida and Buena Vista farmers’ markets from May through October. 

Performing arts in Salida are directed by Stage Left Theatre Company (stagelefttheatre.org). Now in its 14th year, Stage Left produces four plays annually and one annual performance of Shakespeare in the Park at the Salida Rotary Amphitheater at Riverside Park. 

Opportunities to hear music abound in Salida, including Salida Aspen Concerts, Walden Chamber Music Society, Alpine Orchestra and Thursdays at Six concert series in the summer. 

A range of musical art exists each week at various venues such as coffee shops, taverns and Riverside Park. 

Dance is another performing art prevalent in the community. Arkansas Valley Music and Dance offers contra and country western dances, swing and waltz classes, old-time music jams and weekend festivals. Monarch Mavericks Square Dance Club hosts dances twice monthly at the Salida Community Center. Dance studios conduct classes on a regular basis, among which are Salida Dance Studio, Casa Tango Salida, Tenderfoot Dance Cooperative and Hi Steppin’ Dance Studio.  

Salida Circus, a force in local performing arts, started in 2007. The circus offers entertainment for events and partners with the Boys & Girls Club of Chaffee County and East First Emporium to offer educational workshops for students and adults.

The Book Haven, 135 F St., hosts frequent literary events, including local author book readings and signings. Its quarterly events, Dies Librorum, or “book day” in Latin, feature published authors along with refreshments. 

In recent years, the art of filmmaking has been promoted in Salida by bringing film festivals to the SteamPlant, such as the Indie Film Festival on the Arkansas and the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival on tour. 

Most recently, a regular opportunity to view documentary films has come through Sellars Project Space. Thought-provoking documentary films are offered monthly for free in the SteamPlant theater to inspire an awareness of social issues, nature and the environment.

SPS founder and artist Jimmy Sellars and his team work with businesses, community leaders and individuals to promote the arts and build community. 

“The arts are important to every community in so many ways,” said Sellars. “Art is not only decorative, it can be healing and bringing people together.”

“Like most callings, being an artist was never a choice for me,” Sellars continued. “I was raised in an extremely creative environment full of love and paint. But I look at art a bit differently.”

Sellars said instead of just showing what artists can do, he sees the power in the coordination of creativity on a larger scale, such as in the Salida Creative District. 

“This enables many artists to not only create their work but to promote conversation, introduce new concepts and heal,” said Sellars. “A simple film can change our lives. A beautiful painting can inspire us. How can anyone not see the power of the arts?

“Art has the power to bring people together to make not only a more creative Salida but a more unified city,” Sellars said. 

In many ways, the artists and community members of Salida have set the standard for a Colorado creative arts community. Just as all those years ago when the trains kept rolling down the tracks, the creativity will surely keep rolling in Salida for years to come.